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Ed O’Neill, Star of ‘Modern Family,’ Contemplated Joining the Mob before Hollywood Success: Recalls Struggling Financially

‘Modern Family’ star Ed O’Neill almost joined the mob before making it in Hollywood: I was ‘broke’

Ed O’Neill revealed he almost ditched his plans to become an actor in a bid to join the mob.

The “Modern Family” alum sat down with his former co-star Jesse Tyler Ferguson on his “Dinner on Me” podcast Tuesday and revealed how he almost picked up the gig when he was “broke” in his 20s.

O’Neill explained the opportunity came to him in 1969 after he had been fired by the Pittsburgh Steelers and didn’t “have a clue” what to do next.

“I had friends in organized crime,” he said, referring to his old pal named Jim, who lived in his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio.

“[Jim] called me and said, ‘Hey take a ride with me. I want to talk to you,’” the actor recalled

“We’re driving, and he said, ‘How are you doing? You know, you, you got cut, you got no money,’” O’Neill continued. “I said, ‘No, I’m broke. You know, I don’t know what I’m going to do.’”

The “Married … with Children” star, 77, explained Jim took him to a “fancy” restaurant he “never would go” to.

“He started talking to the bartender,” the actor recalled. “He says, ‘I’m looking for this kid, his name is whatever, Demko, his name is Jimmy Demko, do you know him?’ And the guy says, ‘No, it doesn’t ring a bell.’”

“We’re driving, and he said, ‘How are you doing? You know, you, you got cut, you got no money,’” he recalled. (Credits: 2002 ABC, INC.)


O’Neill continued Jim began describing the man before eventually bribing the bartender.

“He gives him 20, and he says, ‘Look, he’s an old friend of mine, I haven’t seen him in years, you know, I’m looking to reconnect, but I’d like to surprise him. So if he comes in again, this is my, you can call this number. You can reach me,’” he explained.

The duo then left the restaurant, and O’Neill was offered a job he almost couldn’t resist.

“We left, and he said, ‘You can do this kind of stuff for me, you know, I’ll protect you, I’ll give you easy stuff. Just you collect here. You do that. You run, you drop something off here and there. You know, you may have to lean on a guy. You’re good at that. You can make some good money,’” he added.

Ed O'Neill

“We left, and he said, ‘You can do this kind of stuff for me, you know, I’ll protect you,’” the actor continued. (Credits: ABC)

“I said, ‘Let me think about it, Jim. Cause I’m, I don’t know. I might be leaving town to pursue this acting thing,’” he continued.

That night, the “Wreck-It Ralph” star returned home, and his father saw him leaving the car with Jim in the driver’s seat.

“He said, ‘I saw you take a ride with Jimmy … I just want to ask you a question. Can you do time?’” O’Neill recalled his father saying. He told his dad, “No.”

Ed O'Neill

However, the “Married … with Children” alum recalled later talking with his dad, which led him to move to New York in a bid to be an actor instead. (Credits: Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)


“He said, ‘You couldn’t do time. You’d have a hard time being in jail, right?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t think I could do time.’ He said, ‘OK,”’ the actor remembered.

The father-son conversation led O’Neill to head to New York to pursue acting, where he soon became a stage performer within months.

O’Neill’s success eventually led him to land the gig as Al Bundy in “Married … with Children,” which aired from 1987 to 1997.

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